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Monday, December 11 Local

UConn College Democrats say state Sen. Slossberg used N-word

The University of Connecticut College Democrats have accused a veteran state senator of using a racially charged word during a recent meeting with the student group.

Sen. Gayle S. Slossberg, a Milford Democrat, said Thursday she referred to “the word” in the context of a remembrance about books she worked to remove from school libraries because she thought they were inappropriate for young children.

She was chastised Thursday by Democratic Senate leaders.

But the head of the state Republican party says the incident is being blown out of proportion because Slossberg was one of three Democrats who voted for a Republican-crafted state budget last month.

And a leader of an area chapter of the NAACP warned that sometimes using the word in a particular context is acceptable.

However, Scot X. Esdaile, president of the Connecticut NAACP, along with the General Assembly’s Black & Puerto Rican Caucus, announced Thursday they would like an “immediate” meeting with Slossberg to discuss the issue.

According to a statement released by the UConn group on Wednesday — more than a week after her meeting with them — Slossberg used the N-word during a discussion on her work with a local PTA, in which she recalled working to have books with racial epithets removed from grade-school libraries.

“While describing this work, State Senator Slossberg explicitly used the N-word, without euphemisms, within the context of its presence in the books,” said the group in a prepared statement.

The statement went on to say that Slossberg, a member of the state Senate since 2005, later gave the UConn College Democrats a formal apology over her choice or words.

“In my introductory remarks to the UConn College Democrats, I relayed a personal experience about education and fighting racism,” Slossberg said in a statement. “I was talking about children’s books that were outdated and inappropriate for elementary school children. In describing that the books were so inappropriate for young children, I referenced the actual word aloud as it appeared in the text of a children’s book. My intention was to convey that this Word has no place in our society, especially in teaching our children.”

Slossberg said she “responded immediately” for saying the word and sent a formal apology to the entire club.

‘No appropriate time’

“The use of this word transcends political opinion and partisanship, and we refute the use of this word and any others that target the identities of groups affected by racism,” the the UConn College Democrats’ statement said.

“We decided that as a collective we needed to issue this statement as a cohesive group, that we stood indivisible,” UCD President Steven Della-Giustina said Thursday by email. “So we took our time to ensure that all voices were heard and expressed in our statement, and ensuring that everyone felt comfortable about the statement.”

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On Thursday morning, Senate President Pro Tempore Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven, and Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, criticized Slossberg and said in a statement that they hope for more comment from her both publicly as well as within the 18-member Senate Democratic caucus.

“Senator Slossberg’s use of that highly offensive word is wrong,” the Democratic leaders said. “There is no appropriate time, place, or setting for its use. We understand that Senator Slossberg regrets her poor judgment in using that word when retelling her history of working to eliminate books containing that word from her local grade-school libraries. That context does not excuse Senator Slossberg’s use of that word, but we hope that this unfortunate incident will lead to a frank discussion with her colleagues in our caucus as well as the community at large.”

But J.R. Romano, chairman of the Republican State Central Committee, said he believes the subtext of the UConn criticism is Slossberg’s recent support of a Republican state budget.

“This is a vendetta against her for voting for a common-sense budget that would have held her district harmless instead of decimating school systems,” Romano said in a Thursday interview. “It looks like Democrats care more about party loyalty than everyday families.

State budget concerns

On Sept. 15, Slossberg was one of three Senate Democrats who voted for a Republican budget, which early the next day also passed the House, with five Democratic votes. The two-year, $40 billion budget, which would have cut UConn by $300 million, was vetoed by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who among other criticisms said it would have reduced spending on the state’s flagship university by an unacceptable amount.

Malloy’s executive order, which has kept bare-bones government funding since the fiscal year started July 1, includes no local support under the state’s Education Cost Sharing program for the city of Milford along with 84 other, affluent towns and cities.

The university group posted the letter on its Facebook page, with the comment: “This is our statement on our October 3, 2017 meeting with State Senator Gayle Slossberg. We seek to be a place that lives up to our nation’s democratic principles of both equality and free speech. Thank you to our entire club for their input on this action.”

The statement did not offer any direct quotes from the Oct. 3 meeting, nor was Hearst Connecticut Media able to obtain a recording of the session. UCD did say the discussion began on the subject of the University of Connecticut’s standing with the state budget, and the N-word comments were made later on.

George Mintz, chairman of the Bridgeport Area Chapter of the NAACP, said the use of the N-word, depending on the situation, isn’t always “reprehensible and unjustifiable.”

“If I were on a panel and I said something like ‘... these N-people...’ that’s offensive,” Mintz said. “But I said something like: ‘... you want to do away with the N-word,’ well, that’s not offensive. So it depends on the context.”

Still, he said that it would be good to have a recording or a transcript of the session on Oct. 3 before passing judgment.

Esdaile, the NAACP leader, said it’s important “to prevent this type of insensitive behavior and poor judgment” from occurring in the future. “Our children and young people look to elected officials and community leaders for guidance,” he said.

“The use of this word transcends political opinion and partisanship, and we refute the use of this word

and any others that target the identities of groups affected by racism,” the UCD statement said.

kdixon@ctpost.com Twitter: @KenDixonCT

Ken Dixon|State Capitol reporter/columnist Hearst Connecticut Media

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